Semen contains prostate cancer biomarkers that could over time improve diagnosis of the condition, a group of Australian researchers said.
After analyzing seminal fluid samples from 60 men, the researchers discovered tiny molecules called microRNAs known to be elevated in prostate cancer. Some of the molecules were “surprisingly accurate” in detecting the cancer and its severity, according to a study published in the journal Endocrine-Related Cancer.
The results could help spot the disease, which is now often diagnosed with the prostate specific antigen, or PSA, test. That type of blood testing has resulted in substantial over diagnosis and over treatment without having a significant effect on prostate cancer mortality, according to the researchers.
“While the PSA test is very sensitive, it is not highly specific for prostate cancer,” said Luke Selth, a research fellow at the University of Adelaide and the lead author of the study. “We have a long way until we can potentially use these biomarkers in a clinical test -- but it’s a promising development.”
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men, after skin cancer. An estimated 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year and the disease will kill about 29,480 patients, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“We certainly do need better biomarkers for prostate cancer and the results in this study are of interest,” said Declan G. Murphy, a uro-oncologist and associate professor at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in East Melbourne, Australia. “Seminal fluid however, is not the most convenient of targets for a biomarker and this finding would have more practical impact if it could be demonstrated in serum also.”
The findings will need to be validated in a larger and more diverse cohort, Selth said.